Sunday, June 06, 1999

"Suicide is no picnic"

I've lived with the vow to end my life this November for two weeks now. That's time enough to know that the decision is, on balance, a good one. I'm almost easy with it. Though easy is a long way from happy and there are downsides. But I'm learning to cope with the sudden, dreadful pangs of why me? that strike unbidden when I'm alone or looking in a mirror. Some of your kindly e-mails and letters have helped there. At least the ones that don't try to dissuade me. As a general note, if you can't leave it at sympathy and tears, I don't want to know. There have been small changes like the cigarettes. People do give you a wider berth if you're smoking two or three at once, but tant pis. The only real problem, I think, is a worrying erosion in my social behaviour.

Last weekend, I was sitting on a blanket in a field by a river. It was the fourth or fifth time I'd been out since I left hospital and the first time I'd left London. I was with friends. We'd done this before. It had been almost exactly the same the last time except that Bridget was there. There were also fewer children. And of course there wasn't the infuriating knowledge that this picnic had been arranged specially for me. I can't blame them for the idea. That's how a group of friends responds to having a hole blown in its side. I attempt suicide and they act from the old script until they are convinced and comforted by the resulting, messy scar. Of course, when I put it like that, I absolutely can blame them. Particularly when I overheard someone saying, `Yes, Richard has been rather piano recently.' Piano!? You'd be toto bloody sordino if you were in my shoes, darling. A guy tries to kill himself and you organise a picnic? Come on! But of course in the photos, this picnic will look just the same as all the others. And that for them is the point.

But it was pleasant enough. Cold beer, skirts (an extra-mural fat one, good west plantation skunk - mild but bone-deep), nude bathing complete with a standing fluvial micturition from Rebecca to annexe 50 yards of bank for us.

Considering the sense of acute isolation I feel all the time now, things were ticking over quite painlessly until I reached for the last smoked cod's roe cracker. I was explaining to Helen that a recurring childhood nightmare had returned for the first time in 25 years. In it, I pretend to be dead so that I end up being buried alive to punish myself for causing my parents' split. I wasn't actually looking when my fingers met the plate so I was surprised to find no biscuit there. I turned my head to see the morsel disappearing in the grasp of a four-year-old git called Ivan.

A darting grab and it was mine again. But he wouldn't let go. Helen was still forming a platitude about poor me and my dream. I prised Ivan's fingers from the cracker and growled `get off'.

`Mummy, I want the biscuit; get me the biscuit,' he whined.

`I had it first,' I heard myself saying - more loudly because Helen and everyone else had stopped talking. Out shot his little hand again. I dodged back and hissed: `Get lost, you fucking little rat.' Half open mouths told me I was plunging over a line.

`Richard...' said a shocked bloke's voice as Ivan made a more successful lunge. `I had the thing in my HAND! It's MINE!' I shouted as I rolled the little twerp on to his back, pinned him to the tartan blanket and yanked the crumbled morsel from his fin. Things became static for a moment. An early wasp settled and pumped on the quince cheese.

Ivan's parents were too stunned to speak. Those who weren't gawping at me were staring at the floor. Then Rebecca spoke with a teacher's sing-song castigation. `Now then Richard... Why don't you be nice to Ivan and give him half the biscuit?' `It's mine,' I mumbled. (You'll be glad to know I'm actually cringing as I write this.)

`Richard…' said Rebecca, really milking the dot dot dots. I looked up at her. In my peripheral vision, I caught the ring of expectant eyes.

`Say "please", Ivan,' said Rebecca.

A pause. `Please.'

I looked at the damaged fishy crisp in my hand, then slowly turned back to Rebecca... and stuffed the whole thing into my mouth. Ha ha ha, now eat that, you fucked-up little c***. (No inverted commas there to let you think, just for a moment, that I didn't actually say it.) Then with giddy clarity I noted four sharp breaths and three disappointed soughs, one of which became a boreal `Oh Richard'. In the short gap before Ivan's shriek finally trashed the idyll, I heard myself announcing flatly that I was going to take a swim.

As I wandered away, I heard Helen say: `Things are really hard for him at the moment, you know', and one or two murmurs of agreement. Someone was bollocking Ivan massively. A slap was involved. But what struck me most as I ambled towards the chattering river was that my shame was vestigial and merely theoretical. This all mattered, and yet in some much bigger way it didn't.

The thought that occurred to me as I plunged into the weir was that I had been excused because of my `condition'. What the hell else will I be allowed to get away with? That worries me far more than the simple prospect of quaffing the bleach in November.


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